Vengeance is Mine
by Martha Stevens-David
Part 4. The Patient
In Room 223 of the Fairview Retirement Home, the old woman struggled into an upright position and she swore angrily as she scraped her hand against the side rail of the hospital bed. Finally finding the call bell, she pushed the button to summon someone to help her with the bed pan. Irritated that her call for assistance hadn't been answered immediately, she grabbed the call bell and repeatedly punched the button over and over again. After what seemed to her a long wait, she could hear the sound of feet as someone came running down the hall towards her room. The door was suddenly thrust open and a young nurse rushed into the room.
"Are you ok Mrs. Stanton?" the nurse, slightly out of breath, asked as she hurried over to her bed. The angry woman slapped the nurse's hand away and replied, "If you think I'm going to pay twenty-five hundred dollars every month to this friggin place just to be ignored, you've got another think coming! I need to use the bedpan and I need it now!" "But Mrs. Stanton, Dr. Kingfield wants you to try and walk as much as you can," the nurse said in a placating voice. "If I help, can't you try to walk to the toilet?"
Mrs. Stanton pulled herself up in the bed, crossed her arms across her ample bosom and glared at the nurse. "I'll be the one who determines when I'm well enough to get out of bed and I don't feel like it right now! Just get me the bed pan before I piss all over this bed!" Seeing that she meant what she said, the nurse hurried to do her bidding.
As she cleaned up the old woman and emptied the bed pan, the young nurse swore to herself a couple of times but she always turned a smiling face to the patient. "Well, Mrs. Stanton, you're all set and please just ring the bell and I'll come right back should you need me." The old woman sniffed to herself and turned her face away. The young nurse left the room and quietly closed the door behind her, knowing full well that half an hour wouldn't pass before the red light over the door of Room 223 would be lit up and flashing again with the prima donna demanding one thing or another.
As she quickly made her way back to the nursing station, Mary Elizabeth muttered several expletives to herself. "Friggin old cow!" She said under her breath. "No wonder, as the newest kid on the block I was given that patient to take care of! I wonder how long it will be before I can change and get someone nicer." But she knew that if she asked to be changed to another patient, all the other nurses would just tell her that the newest arrival has no seniority. She'd just have to suck it up and wait her turn in line. If she didn't kill her patient first, that is.
"How's the patient in 223 doing this morning?" the other duty nurse asked with a barely concealed smile when Mary Elizabeth had settled into her seat behind the desk. "You know without asking how that old bag is doing!" Mary Elizabeth retorted. "For two friggin cents, I'd chuck her fat ass out of the second floor window in a heartbeat!" Upon hearing her coworker's reply, the other nurse laughed and headed off to answer a call button of her own, thanking all the Gods that be that she didn't have to care for Mrs. Stanton any longer.
As the weeks slid into months, Mary Elizabeth became used to the retirement home and its patients and surprisingly enough, she found herself drawn to the old woman in Room 223. Sometimes, when all of her other patients were sound asleep, she'd slip into Mrs. Stanton's room and stand quietly by the door and look at her. There was something acutely familiar about the way the woman's face looked when in repose and it disturbed Mary Elizabeth that she couldn't figure out what it was that drew her to that particular patient.
Then, one day when it was raining and dismal and everything that could go wrong had, the light over the doorway of Room 223 lit up and the call bell began to sound in urgent succession. Mary Elizabeth, sighed, pushed her note pad aside and hurried down the hall to see what Mrs. Stanton's latest complaint was going to be. She pushed the door open, plastered a smile on her face and stepped into the room. "Good morning Mrs. Stanton. What can I do for you this beautiful morning?" The old woman turned her head and glared at the girl. "Is everyone around here friggin stupid or what? Can't you see that it's raining outside! She didn't wait for an answer. "I don't suppose it would occur to you that I might like a cup of tea on a morning like this?" The nurse walked over to her bed and gently rearranged the pillows that were holding the woman propped up in her bed. "Now, now, Mrs. Stanton. All you have to do is ask and you know that I'd be happy to bring you a cup of tea. What kind do you prefer?"
Seeing that she wasn't going to rile the young girl by her rudeness, she backed off her attitude a little and replied, "Well, to tell the truth, I always was partial to the kind of tea that was served in my old home in "Tha County." Upon hearing this familiar phrase from her home state, Mary Elizabeth turned to the woman and asked, "And what county are you referring to Mrs. Stanton?" The old woman turned her blue eyes on the nurse and looked at her as though she were stupid.
"The only place that ever meant anything to me, Aroostook County and my hometown of Fort Kent, Maine! Don't suppose that you've ever heard of them?" Upon hearing the name of her hometown roll off the old woman's tongue, Mary Elizabeth felt a chill run up her spine. She couldn't believe her ears! They came from the same place! Her heart pounding in her chest, she moved closer to the bed and said, "Why Mrs. Stanton! I was under the impression that you came from the Washington area." "Good God no!" the old woman replied. "I came down to this friggin place when I was a young girl like you and I married tha senator and you know, you stay where your husband's work takes you. But I always tried to go home every so often or as we like to say in "Tha County," when your heart calls you home."
Tired from all the talking, the old woman rubbed her head as though she had a headache, then she turned her withered face away and looked out the window and her memories came pouring out. "My family name in Maine was Fortin and my father and grandfather were potato farmers up there and dirt poor too as I recall." The old woman rambled on. "I graduated from high school in the Class of 1930. I had a dear sister who was quite a few years older than me and she was the Mother Superior in a small Nunnery there. She's long gone now and I miss her a lot." She turned in the bed and fixed her penetrating gaze on the nurse. "I noticed on the first day you came to work here that the name on your name tag was the same as my maiden name, Fortin. Do you have relatives around here?"
Shocked by the information she's just heard, Mary Elizabeth busied herself by straightening the blankets and smoothing out the wrinkles, trying to think of an answer. "Well," she finally replied. "Coincidentally, my family name is the same as yours. Would you believe that?" "Well," the old woman said. "I suppose that we might be distant cousins or something because Fortin was rather a common name if I remember correctly and they sure knew how to breed if you get my drift." Not wanting to divulge more nor wanting to hear more, the nurse again asked what kind of tea she preferred and hearing that it was Tetley British with just a touch of cream, she hurried to the kitchen to make it.
Her mind reeling and her heart racing, Mary Elizabeth poured the scalding water into the teapot and placed the teabags inside and she noticed that her hands were shaking. "My God!" She thought to herself. "Do you suppose that that old witch and I are actually related? I'll have to call Dr. Baker and tell him this news and see what he has to say." Resolved to call him at the end of her shift, she carried the steaming cup of tea back to Room 223.
As soon as her shift was over, Mary Elizabeth hurried out of the hospital and drove home as quickly as she could, all the while her mind was whirling with all that she had learned. She parked her car in the underground parking garage and ran towards the elevator. In a matter of minutes, she was dialing her Godfather's number and waited with impatient heartbeats for him to pick up the phone.
As soon as she heard his deep voice on the phone, all that she had heard and feared came tumbling out and she waited for him to answer. Finally, Dr. Baker was able to understand just what Mary Elizabeth was saying to him and he made the decision that he'd been waiting to make for so many years. "I think that you and I should have a talk and I think it should be done as soon as possible," he told her. "I can fly down there right away or you can come here, it's up to you." He waited for her reply. "Thank you Godfather, I'll come to you. I'll be on the next plane going north as soon as I can get someone to take my shift."
Mary Elizabeth called her supervisor and explained that she had to fly to Maine right away because her Godfather was ill and that she was taking the first flight out of Dulles that very afternoon. Then she began packing.
Upon landing at Bangor Airport, she rented a car and drove north as fast as she dared, hoping all the while that she wouldn't get a ticket and praying that what she'd been told by the patient in Room 223, couldn't possibly be true.
Finally, after having been driving for over two and a half hours, she turned into the Maine Street of Fort Kent and it wasn't too long before she pulled up in Dr. Martin's driveway. After being greeted by him, he guided her into the house and over to the sofa. Then he sat down in a chair across from her and waited for her to begin.
She was silent for a couple of long minutes and the doctor waited for her to gather her thoughts and suddenly, she lifted her deep, blue eyes and looked directly at him and then it all came tumbling out. "Godfather, when I was a little girl, when I'd ask Mother who my parents were, she'd always tell me that they were killed in a car accident and because I knew I was loved by everybody at the Nunnery and by you too, I soon quit asking. I've known you all my life and I know Mother Superior loved and trusted you too. But now that I'm grown, I feel that it is within my rights to know what you know. I'm sure that you and you alone, have the answers to all of my questions about my birth and who my family really is."
Dr. Baker looked at his God-child for a long moment and then he did what he had been known to do all of his life, he told the truth. "Mary Elizabeth, I have been debating this issue all night long and I will now tell you what little I know about your parents and I will also give you the documents that Mother Superior left in my care until you were old enough to ask about them."
As Dr. Baker related the details to her, he didn't alter one single fact and he told the story in its entirety, including the two abortions and what had happened on the day of her birth, withholding nothing. Throughout the long recital, the young woman didn't flinch or drop her eyes even though some of the information would certainly have shocked some people. When he'd finished, he sat back in the chair and waited for the questions to come but to his surprise, she didn't ask him a thing. She simply sat where she was, looking directly at him, digesting all that he had said.
"Well, my dear, do you have anything you would like to ask?" The young woman shifted herself on the sofa and looked down at her shoes for a long moment and then she said, "Well, I certainly have hundreds of questions but I doubt that you could answer any of them because if all you've told me is true, then I will have to decide what I want to do with all this new information from here on out." Then she told him about the patient in Room 223 and all that had happened since she'd taken over her care.
This time it was the old doctor was shocked at how life can turn on you when you least expect it. He was glad that the girl was so level headed and knew that she would handle this situation with the utmost discretion. He looked at her for a long moment and said, "You're absolutely right my dear. What are you going to gain by confronting that old woman after all these years? After all, she thinks the third baby died just like the other two and even if she admits that she is your birth mother, are you prepared for the rejection that might come?"
"Well Godfather, I will always consider you and Mother Superior to be my real parents but I still would like to be able to say that I met my real mother and I think I have the right to ask her why she didn't want me. And I want to know who my father really was and if he's still alive or not." The doctor looked at her for several long moments and then he asked, "And are you prepared for the answer you might receive?" "Well, I've been training to be a nurse for the past four years and I think I can pretty much handle anything that comes my way." She stopped and looked at him. "Well, I guess you can at that," he said. "But please promise me one thing, if you finally confront her, please don't hesitate to contact me if I can be of any assistance." Tears filled her lovely blue eyes and she grabbed his hand and held on tight. "And I always know where to find you don't I? And you never know, dad, I just might find my way back up north, if I get tired of the big city life that is!" The old doctor smiled and replied, "Well, I could always use a smart, young nurse in my office."
The next morning, Mary Elizabeth kissed her God-father goodbye and felt sad when she saw how old and tired he looked in the bright morning sunshine and she felt a surge of guilt that she'd put him through the stress of having to tell her about her birth.
All during the long drive back to Bangor, her thoughts were consumed with the words, "illegitimate" and "multiple abortions" and she made it back to the airport just in time to catch her return flight to Washington. As she sat in her seat with all the new information about her birth mother and the circumstances of her birth swirling through her mind, she still couldn't think about what she was going to do. As the large plane tilted its wings on the final approach to landing at Dulles, her heart was racing. How was she going to feel when she saw the old woman, her mother, in Room 223 again? She really didn't have an answer to that question.
After a sleepless night, she finally came up with a sort of plan. Sliding out of her nice, warm bed, she ran for the shower and dressed in record time. Hardly glancing at her slim reflection in the bathroom mirror, she grabbed her coat and purse and headed out the door. Today was the day she was finally going to get some answers. Maybe by nightfall she'd know the whole truth about herself and how she'd come to be.
The elevator door slid silently open to her floor and she stepped out into the dim hall. The night duty nurse looked up and waved to her. "Thank God you're back!" she exclaimed to Mary Elizabeth. "The witch in Room 223 has driven me crazy with all her wants and demands. But this morning she has taken a turn for the worst and doctor has ordered 24 hour oxygen therapy. He doesn't think she'll last much longer."
Upon hearing this surprising information, Mary Elizabeth dropped her bag and coat onto the desk and hurried to see how the patient in Room 223 was doing. When she quietly pushed the heavy door open, she saw that Mrs. Stanton was lying on her side and her labored breaths were coming in short, quick gasps. She walked over to the bed and reached down and picked up the blue-veined hand.
Feeling the warm hand holding her own, the old woman muttered something to herself, shifted in the large bed and slowly opened her sunken eyes. She looked at the nurse standing next to her bed for several long seconds and slowly pulled her hand away.
"How do you feel this morning?" Mary Elizabeth asked but the old woman didn't answer, she simply closed her eyes and went back to sleep. Mary Elizabeth quickly checked all the tubes and oxygen equipment, then she turned and left the sleeping patient's room.
Walking back to the nurses' station, Mary Elizabeth sat and quickly sorted through the patient charts until she found the one she was looking for, Mrs. Cora Stanton, Room 223. Knowing full well if she was caught reading the personal information on any patient was grounds for dismissal, Mary Elizabeth read the chart all the way through. The night nurse had been right, the patient in Room 223 had failed a lot since she'd left and she could die at any time. Mary Elizabeth sat in the chair for a long time and tried to formulate a plan in her mind. With the old woman so critical, how could she just go in there and tell her who she was. She didn't know what to do next, so she sat where she was and let her mind wander over the facts that her Godfather had told her. The old woman didn't have a clue that she had lived and didn't even know if the last child she'd aborted had been a boy or a girl. She really didn't know that Mary existed. Maybe the information would be such a shock that that it would kill her. Mary didn't want to be the cause of her mother's death even though she didn't hesitate to kill me! Mary thought to herself.
The more she sat and thought, the deeper her anger became. "That old bag lies in there like a pampered queen." She thought to herself. "All she has to do is reach out and ring a bell and all her needs are answered in a matter of seconds! She carried three babies in her body but she has no idea what it really means to be a mother! She threw us away before she even got to know us!"
Mary Elizabeth wiped the tears from her eyes with the back of her hand and just as she was about to make her final rounds of the night, the call light lit up over Room 223. Surprised to see the light go on, she pushed herself out of the chair and slowly walked down the long, dark corridor until she reached the door. She pushed the door open and walked silently over to where the old woman was lying in the bed.
"Do you need something Mrs. Stanton?" The dying woman slowly opened her eyes and looked at her. "What do you see when you look at me?" she asked and the old woman simply stared back at her. "Do you recognize anything at all about me? Do I remind you of anyone you know?" Again, all of her questions were met with silence but the woman never took her eyes off Mary Elizabeth.
Now that she'd started, there was no stopping her and the nurse began telling her exactly who she was and what she'd learned from Dr. Baker. When she got to the part about the abortions and how she'd survived her own, the old woman gasped several times and grabbed her chest but Mary Elizabeth didn't have any sympathy for her.
"All these years, you've been living the high life down here in Washington as the Senator's wife. You never once gave any thought about the lives you took or what you did to your own sister! As long as you got what you wanted, that was all that was important to you, wasn't it!"
Again the old woman gave a loud gasp and clutched her chest as though she were having a heart attack but this didn't stop Mary Elizabeth. "Go ahead and gasp all you want, I don't care what happens to you! You left me to die in a pail and even that would be too good for the likes of you! I hope that wherever you're going, you're going to have to pay for what you did here on earth! And if you ask me, Hell would be far too good for the likes of you!"
With that final outburst, Mary Elizabeth walked over to the oxygen monitor and reaching out her hand, she found the on/off button with her fingers.....
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See also Vengeance is Mine a short mystery novel published at Magic City over 4 days.
All works by Martha Stevens-David published at Magic City Morning Star News are her copyright property and may not be reproduced without her permission.